Peter Heywood, a biographical sketch

by Michael Phillips

On 6 June 1773, at her home near Douglas, Elizabeth Heywood gave birth to a son who was named Peter after his father, a Deemster, or Justice, in the Isle of Man and Seneschal or steward to the Duke of Atholl.
Influenced no doubt by his uncle, Captain Thomas Pasley, his aunt's husband, young Peter entered the Royal Navy as a midshipman on 11 October 1786, four months after his thirteenth birthday.
Just over a year later, on 23 December 1787, he sailed from Spithead on his first voyage in an armed transport of 215 tons named Bounty, commanded by Lieutenant William Bligh, which had been purchased by the government to carry breadfruit plants from Tahiti, then called Otaheite, to the West Indies.

The story of the voyage, and the extraordinary inter-relations between Bligh and the others on board that culminated in the mutiny on that fatal morning of 28 April 1789, is well known, so I will concentrate on the events that affected Peter Heywood.

Lieutenant Bligh's Narrative of the Mutiny contains nothing which would implicate his own conduct, but fortunately we have the journal of the Boatswain's Mate, James Morrison, later lost as a gunner in Troubridge's flagship Blenheim, and Peter Heywood's own account.

TThe Bounty arrived in Matavie Bay on 26 October 1788 from Van Dieman's Land, Tasmania, and the Cape of Good Hope after unsuccessfully attempting to round Cape Horn. A tent was pitched on Point Venus for David Nelson, the botanist, and Fletcher Christian, Peter Heywood and four men were sent to act as a guard.
Meanwhile the Bounty's people used every article of trade they possessed to barter for hogs which were salted down. Bounty moved to Oparre, a more secure anchorage, on 25 December.
The loading of breadfruit, the object of their voyage, having been accomplished, they sailed on the morning of 4 April 1789 and completed their watering at Annamooka over the 25-26th where they also took on board large quantities of yams, coconuts and plantains.

On Monday, 27 April 1789 Peter Heywood kept the first watch with John Fryer, the Master. When he was relieved by Midshipman Edward Young about 12 o'clock he went below and slept in his hammock until an hour after daylight.
When he awoke and looked up at the hatchway he saw Matthew Thompson, a seaman who kept the middle watch, seated on the arm's chest with a cutlass in his hand. When queried he told Heywood that "Mr Christian had taken over the ship from the Captain, whom he had confined on deck." Heywood and William Elphinstone, a Master's Mate, dressed and went on deck to find the Captain standing on the larboard side of the quarter deck, in his shirt, with his hands tied behind him, and Fletcher Christian standing on his right side with a drawn bayonet in his hand and a small pistol in his pocket.

The large cutter was hoisted out and the nineteen who were to be sent away in her were hustled over the side. The boat being very deep in the water, Mr Bligh called out to those remaining "For God's sake, my lads, don't any more of you come into the boat. I'll do you justice if ever I reach home."

Heywood remained in the Bounty. Not yet 16 years old he felt that he was under the protection of the Captain and, if Bligh had ordered him to accompany them, he would have done so, although he was convinced that they were all going to their deaths.
However George Stewart, another midshipman convinced him that it would be dangerous to stay on board but when they attempted to leave their berth with their possessions they were detained by Matthew Thompson, who pointed a pistol at them.
By the time they were allowed on deck the launch was far astern.

Bounty was sailed to Toobouai, a small island to the south of Tahiti, where Christian started constructing a fort for their safety, intending to take Bounty to pieces. But the obvious reluctance of those who had taken no part in the mutiny to spend their days in exile and the hostility of the natives, compelled him to abandon this plan.
Following a show of hands it was decided that 16 should be landed at Tahiti and that the remaining 9 should take Bounty and seek another refuge.

On 23 March 1791, just eighteen months after Bounty's last departure from Tahiti, His Majesty's frigate Pandora, commanded by Capt. Edward Edwards, arrived there in search of the mutineers. Heywood and Stewart paddled out in a canoe to make themselves known. They were immediately seized and put in irons as "piratical villains". As proof that on his return to England had Bligh had made no distiction between innocent and guilty, the other twelve were collected from various parts of the island and hancuffed.
All fourteen were then confined in a box only eleven feet in length which was built on the after part of the quarter deck with two sentinals on the roof with orders to shoot if they addressed each other in the Tahitian dialect. The entrance was through a scuttle, eighteen inches square, in the roof, secured by an iron bolt passed through the coamings. The only air was admitted through two small iron gratings, nine inches square, in the bulkhead. The heat was intense and perspiration ran in streams from their bodies as Pandora cruised among the islands to the westward seeking intelligence of the Bounty.

On 28 August 1791 Pandora sighted a reef between New Holland (Australia) and New Guinea and Lieut. Robert Corner was sent to see if any opening existed. At 5 p.m. he signalled in the affirmative but Capt. Edwards continued lying to until 7 o'clock, by which time the current had set the ship too near the reef and, before the courses could be set, she had struck on a piece of coral and bilged. Soon the carpenter reported nine feet of water in the hold.
Three of Bounty's people, Coleman, the armourer, and Norman and M'Intosh from the carpenter's crew, were let out to work on the pumps and although the others offered assistance, they were threatened with shooting if they tried to free themselves.
A half hour before daybreak it became apparent that nothing more could be done to save the ship and everything that could float was thrown overboard until the boats, which had been lying off, could come to their aid. Capt. Edwards ignored the pleas of prisoners and actually passed over their prison when he made his own escape.
Fortunately the Master at Arms when slipping off the roof into the sea, let the keys to the shackles slip through the scuttle and William Moulter, a boatswains mate, helped them, saying he would set them free or go to the bottom with them.
In spite of his efforts four drowned while still shackled, George Stewart, who would never see his home in the Orkneys again, Henry Hillbrant, the Cooper, and two seamen, John Sumner and Richard Skinner.

Peter Heywood was picked up by a boat and carried, in a state of nudity, some three miles to a small sandy beach about ninety yards long by sixty wide. On this small stretch of dry land were gathered 99 survivors of the wreck, many in a very exhausted state, with only provisions that had been saved, three bags of biscuit, a small keg of wine and several barracoes of water.
The Pandora's crew were sheltered under tents made from the boat sails but the prisoners, all naked, were refused any covering from the scorching rays of the sun only 11 degrees south of the equator or the heavy dews at night. When Capt. Edwards refused them the use of a spare sail they tried to bury themselves in the sand which caused the skin to blister and peel off.

OAs far as the circumstances permitted the boats were prepared for a long voyage and the whole party embarked at noon on 31 August to sail the 1,100 miles to Coupang where they arrived, in a very sorry condition on 16 September. The prisoners were confined in the castle under the strict, but correct, care of the Dutch.
There followed a hazardous passage of 33 days to Samarang and Batavia in a badly found Dutch Indiaman, the Rembang, which was nearly driven on shore on two ocassions and proved so leaky that every person on board had to work at the pumps - even the prisoners - although their irons were replaced every time they were allowed to rest.

At Batavia the prisoners, having their hands free were able to earn some money to buy clothing by making and selling straw hats. On the passage from Batavia to the Cape of Good Hope in three Dutch ships the prisoners received every fortnight (that is, a Dutch purser's fortnight of 16 days) 3 pounds of bad meat; 1 1/2 pounds of fish; the same weight of tamarinds and sugar; 1/2 pint each of ghee and rancid oil and 1 pint of vinegar. Every day they received 1/3 pint of arrack and a portion of the worst possible rice.
At Table Bay Heywood removed into Gordon,44, on 19 March 1792 and on the passage to England he was allowed to exercise on the open deck for six or eight hours every day. Gorgon arrived at Spithead on 19 June and two days later he was transferred to Hector (74) where Capt. George Montague treated him with the greatest humanity.

On Wednesday 12 September he faced a court martial presided over by Lord Hood to answer charges of ingratitude, mutiny and desertion brought by Lieutenant Bligh. Although he could plead his youth and inexperience and his voluntary surrender to the captain of Pandora, he was faced with one of the axioms of naval law: "There can be no neutrality where mutiny is concerned and the man who stands by and does nothing to stop it is equally culpable".
On Tuesday 18 September the court had no option but to find him guilty of mutiny and sentence him to death.
Within half an hour of the verdict a friend, Aaron Graham, once a naval purser but now a respected magistrate in London, who had been assisting Heywood, had written a letter to the Reverend Patrick Scott in the Isle of Man, who had been comforting Mrs Heywood, a widow since her husband died on 6 February 1790, to reassure her that despite the sentence, her son was safe. The court had made the strongest recommendation for mercy and the Attorney General had told him that "he was as safe as if he had never been condemned".

While Heywood waited to discover his fate one of his brothers described his serenity in a letter: "While I write this, Peter is sitting by me, making an Otaheitean vocabulary, and so happy and intent upon it that I have no opportunity of saying a word to him. I assure you he is at present in excellent spirits, and I am absolutely convinced they get better and better every day."

After five weeks and four days Capt. Montague at last read to him the King's "free and unconditional pardon" to which Heywood replied that "I receive with gratitude my Sovereign's mercy, for which my future life shall be faithfully devoted to his service".
He returned to his family in the Isle of Man where their loving care restored the health which had been so impaired by the treatment he had received. It seems remarkable that his ordeal left so little lasting effect.

On 17 May 1793 he joined his uncle's flagship Bellerophon and shortly after Commodore Pasley removed him to the care of Capt. Legge in the Niger frigate as a Master's Mate.
On 23 September he removed again to Lord Howe's flagship Queen Charlotte as Signal Midshipman and Master's Mate, taking part in the actions with the French on 28 and 29 May and the Glorious First of June 1794. In this ship he served under three captains who had been members of his court martial. On 9 March 1795 he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Incendiary fireship.

His subsequent appointments were

  • to the Nymphe (40) being present as part of Lord Brid[port's fleet at the capture of three French line-of-battle ships at L'Orient on 23 June 1795;
  • the frigate Fox which he joined in January 1796, serving first in the North Sea and then as an escort for the outward trade to India. At the Cape of Good Hope he became her senior lieutenant.
  • In June 1797 he followed his captain, Pulteney Malcom, into Vice Ad. Rainier's flagship Suffolk.
  • Lieutenant and Commander of the brig Amboyna.
    Vice Ad. Rainier appointed him to take home the important news of the fall of Seringapatam, but at Madras 9 days later, he found that the dispatches had already been sent in merchant ship. He returned, disappointed, to Suffolk and continued in her until he was promoted to the command of
  • the Vulcan bomb which he joined at Amboyna.
    He discovered a shoal approx. 200km north of the Bonaparte Archipelago off the North-West coast of Australia, which was named Vulcan Shoal by Phillip Parker King of Mermaid in 1818, and first appeared in Admiralty charts in 1956.

His post commission was confirmed by the Admiralty on 5 April 1803.
While in command of the Leopard (50) he carried out a survey of the shoals off the north-east coast of Ceylon and between them and Point Calymere.
He also ascertained the exact position of most places on the coast of India. This information he imparted to the hydrographer James Horsburgh, for use in his Sailing Directions when they both sailed for England in the East Indiaman Cirencester in 1805, after Capt. Heywood had been obliged to resign his ship due to ill health and the death of his elder brother, which required his presence to sort out family affairs.
The Admiralty subsequently published many of his charts.

In October 1806 he served in Polyphemus as flag captain to Rear Ad. Sir George Murray and in the spring of 1807 they sailed from the Cape of Good Hope with more than 4,000 troops in a fleet of transports for the Rio de la Plata to join in the unsuccessful attempt to recapture Buenos Aires.
He subsequently acted as captain of Pulteney Malcolms Donegal and in May 1809 he was appointed to the new 36-gun frigate Nerus.
In April 1810 he brought the body of Vice Ad. Lord Collingwood back from the Mediterranean.
In 1811 he was responsible for the protection of British merchants and shipping at Buenos Aires where a civil war was raging and returned home in January 1812.
He resumed his station as senior officer in la Plata until July 1813 when he removed to Montague at Rio de Janeiro and returned to Portsmouth in October 1813.

After re-fitting she served on the North Sea station, and accompanied Louis XVIII on his return to France in April 1814. In 1815, after Napoleon returned from Elba, she was ordered to the Mediterranean but arrived in the Adriatic too late to assist the Austrians in the war against Joachim Murat.
Capt. Heywood convoyed a large number of troops from Naples to Genoa and Marseilles and then acted as senior officer at Gibraltar until February 1816.
Montague returned to England and was put out of commission at Chatham on 16 June 1816 and on 31 July at the age of 43, after spending 30 years of his life away at sea, Peter Heywood married Frances, the only daughter of Francis Simpson of Plean House, Stirlingshire.
He died on 10 February 1831, aged 58, in London.

© Michael Phillips 2000


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